Faith leaders demand emergency meeting with Toronto mayor after unhoused person freezes to death on Christmas Day

Faith leaders demand emergency meeting with Toronto mayor after unhoused person freezes to death on Christmas Day

If nearly $50 million can be added to Toronto’s budget to allocate to police, there’s certainly something the city can do to keep the city’s homeless warm this winter, says Rev. Alexa Gilmour.

On Thursday morning, the United Church minister, along with Father Prakash Lohale of the Paroisse du Sacré-Cœur Catholic Church, John Ryerson of Faith in the City and David Walsh of Ripples of Kindness, delivered a letter to Mayor John Tory calling for an emergency Meeting with a small delegation of faith leaders in January to address the city’s lack of support for Toronto’s most vulnerable residents during the coldest months of the year.

The letter, which has more than 150 signatories, was also sent to all city councillors.

This urgent call to action comes after a person affected by homelessness froze to death on Christmas Day.

This is also accelerated by the fact that an average of 168 people who contact Toronto’s shelter admissions system are turned away each day.

Those who signed the letter are calling on the City of Toronto to immediately increase the number of heat centers throughout the GTA (there are only three heat centers in Toronto at this time.) and to allow 24-hour access to these locations during the winter months enable , end camp clearances and the destruction of survival gear, and add more non-gathering spaces within the regular housing system.

They also said they want to “find ways to accelerate long-term solutions to the housing crisis that protect the economically vulnerable among us.”

Currently, the city’s heat centers typically only activate when Toronto’s health officer calls an extreme cold alert based on an Environment Canada forecast of -15C or colder, or when there’s a wind chill of -20C or colder are.

“We need an immediate response that saves lives,” Gilmour, the founder and national director of the Stone Soup Network, told Thursday afternoon.

“While the city celebrates Christmas, the guest of honor freezes to death on our streets. This is unacceptable to anyone practicing a compassionate faith, including Christians.”

Gilmour said faith leaders in the GTA and the organizations they represent want to work with the City of Toronto to find solutions to keep vulnerable people safe, unharmed and alive during the coldest months of the year until enough decent, affordable housing to be built.

“Everyone ends up wanting to see more housing, but we can’t let people suffer, get hurt and die while we wait for that to happen,” she said, adding Toronto has so many resources available that should be tapped into to help the most vulnerable residents.

“We’ve already had one death and more will die unless something is done.”

In a statement to, Taylor Deasley, of the Mayor’s Office, said Tory’s “prior concern throughout the winter and throughout the year is to protect our most vulnerable residents,” adding the city “would welcome any assistance that is available from our faith communities.” could be.”

Deasley noted that before the big snow storm on Dec. 23, he worked with city officials to ensure the warming centers opened on Dec. 22, a day ahead of schedule and before an extreme cold alert was issued “Save the Torontonians during the storm.”

She also noted that the city’s heat centers were open throughout the Christmas period and that the mayor was informed of the capacity of those locations each day they were open and that there was available capacity each night, including capacity in emergency shelters.

Deasley went on to say that warming centers are an aspect of the city’s 2022-23 winter service plan for the homeless, which also envisages the opening of 1,000 more emergency shelters in addition to the more than 8,000 spots already made available each night for vulnerable residents.

“As part of this winter plan, city officials continue to deploy 24-hour street teams through our Streets to Homes program to offer assistance to people. The city still visits hundreds of camps to introduce them to housing options,” she said, adding that camps in parks are “unsafe, unhealthy and illegal.”

“Beyond these actions, our primary focus is to build affordable and supportive housing as quickly as possible to provide people with more durable and supported pathways out of homelessness. In the last year alone, we successfully moved 3,409 people from shelters into permanent housing, and with the 2023 Housing Action Plan, we will be able to provide more housing to even more vulnerable residents of our city.”

Like many of the letter’s signers, Gilmour put her faith into action over the holiday season, trying to help some of the city’s most vulnerable residents get out of the cold. Around 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, a person without shelter took them to one of the three warm-up centers in Toronto, but they were told the site was full. This person refused to leave and sat in the doors of the heat center.

The next day, she was devastated to learn that another homeless person, known only as AR, had frozen to death alone in her tent.

Gilmour said back in 2016 Toronto had multiple heat centers operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She said it’s possible the city will bring back a full list of these life-saving sites.

“We can do this. It’s not rocket science. We’ve done this before,” she said, pointing to the city of Hamilton, which after a public outcry committed $125,000 in urgent funds to keep its heat centers active throughout the holiday season around the to keep the clock open.

“Winter comes every year. We knew that people on the streets are homeless and we should prepare for them too. … Isn’t that what a compassionate city should do?”

If Tory doesn’t show up with a promise to hold a meeting within days, Gilmour said the unofficial coalition of Christian faith leaders plans to extend its letter-writing campaign to the interfaith community and all Toronto residents.

“We’ll see what the mayor says, but we can’t wait too long because people are out in the cold,” Gilmour said.

“This is not a game. … We have to take action.”

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